Late night... Detroit. Four people... me, Mike, Gina, and Tim. Our mission- who knows? Wander. Photograph. See the city, record the city at night.
Mike has the ready photos from that trip, so he gets to post them... what I wanted to talk about is more editorial in nature.
The city was empty... or nearly so... as Detroit usually, sadly is... even more so due to it being the fourth of July. A brief thunderstorm rolled through as we were on the ground, painting the night sky with lightning strokes and coating the pavement with rain, washing out the lights reflected on the wet streets to greasy smears.
Which brings me nicely to the subject of homeland security...
We went to the Fisher Building, and after to the old General Motors Building across the street, now home to government offices after GM moved into the Renaissance Center. We walked into the lobby, admiring the painted plaster ceiling, and approached an unmanned security podium. I noted that there was a little placard advising us that the current security threat level was yellow, or elevated. After a moment, Gina picked lightly at the corner of the placard. It turns out that it was permanently attached...
Later, about 11:00, we were outside a Comerica bank branch that has some neat noodly concrete decorations on the side, and were shooting photos under the streetlights. I looked around and saw the building security guard on the steps, looking curiously at us. After a brief conversation, it was obvious that we were expected to move along.
This continues a pattern that we have encountered throughout our photographic excursions... big, beautiful, interesting building. Enthusiasm and gushing about its beauty and history. Met with: suspicion and reluctance, hemming and hawing, orders to move along.
Here's my question: What, exactly, is the point?
Heightened security? Okay, fine. But how is turning away tourists and artists helping the cause of security?
Look... the fact is, if I want a photo of a building, I'm going to get a photo of a building. If I am really a bad guy trying to do a bad thing, and I want to target or case a building, I'm going to rent a 1200mm lens and camp out in an abandoned structure a quarter of a mile away. I'm going to drive past the front of the building and have a compatriot take photos from the back seat from behind tinted windows. The real bad guys are going to get their photos. Harassing interested citizens isn't going to improve security.
When I came back to the USA from Japan, I came by freighter. I stood in the dock area in Tokyo and watched them load the ship. Trucks drove up, a big crane plucked the container from the back of the truck, and placed it on the ship. Thousands and thousands of containers. Many were already on the ship from other ports. We sailed across the ocean. We were harassed by homeland security coming into the country. When we were finally allowed to enter, I watched them unload the ship... big cranes plucked containers from the ship and placed them on trucks, which promptly drove away. No inspection that I could see. There could have been anything in there.
You hear about it on the news... detectors at airports still can't find guns with any consistency... but they shake down 80 year old grannies and take away their dangerous nail files.
We have gigantic borders with Canada and Mexico. You're going to tell me every mile is patrolled, and no one can slip over the border? A committed terrorist organization isn't going to cross at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel... They'll pick somewhere in the thousands of miles of wilderness, I suspect. You're going to tell me that every container, train car, and surface mail shipment is opened and inspected? Of course they're not... not only would it be cripplingly expensive, but commerce would grind to a halt. The security that the government preaches is nothing more than an illusion. And you know what? We're still here. Why? Because existing security measures in place before 9/11 are perfectly adequate.
I watched September 11 unfold live. It is the most horrible and shocking thing I have ever seen, and I will never forget it. Over 3,000 innocent people died.
But we lose 10,000 people a year to gun violence... over 40,000 a year to traffic accidents... 100,000 a year to alcohol abuse... 420,000 to smoking-related diseases... all preventable... so why are we going nuts over terrorism? Because it's scary. But what is even scarier is a populace that's willing to sacrifice personal liberties for the illusion of security.
Bad things happen. Cars crash. Good people get sick and die. Evil people commit terrorist acts. But that's life. One of the costs of living in a free society is being open... and leaving ourselves open. Is that worth the risk? Before you answer that... how many terrorist attacks, with a cost of how many lives, did we endure with our old security measures before 9/11? Oklahoma City doesn't count... that was domestic terrorism, that all of the racial profiling in the world couldn't catch... well? Can you name a single incident? No?
So, are we going to live in a free and open society, with a realistic view of the associated risks and a healthy view of the cost of freedom... or will we be timid, and allow ourselves to exist in a paranoid police state with only an illusion of security? The choice, while we still have one, is up to you.